Of the many ways to get ready for camp — list making, supply sourcing, homesickness talks, packing (among others) — often little attention is paid to prepping campers for three weeks of living in and among the natural world.
Not that this is usually an issue. Most kids love playing outside, splashing in rivers, and lolling around in the grass, and relish the summer for precisely that — getting outdoors.
But there’s good reason to consider a little nature prep for most girls, and not just the ones who might have a bug aversion or who are afraid of the dark. Almost all new campers, even those used to outdoor sports or time at the beach, can find ways to either lessen fears or deepen their encounter with nature.
Here are a few tips that can help you help your camper get ready for her time in nature.
Breathe in the great outdoors
First, it’s generally best to keep all nature prep positive. Rather than trying to suss out fears or concerns, ask your daughter questions about what she’s most looking forward to in going to a camp in the mountains.
When she shares the thing(s) she’s most looking forward to about being outside, find common ground from your own childhood. For example, if she says she, “gets to go swimming in the river every day,” you can say that it was one of your most favorite things to do, too.
And if you’re an alum it’s that much easier; you can share that it’s the same river that you (and your sister, aunt, mom, grandmother, cousin) swam in too! She’ll love being part of the legacy!
If your family rarely enjoys time in nature beyond say, backyard picnics and beach trips, you might plan an easy hiking trip with another family (or another Camp Alleghany family). Suggest a treasure hunt for the kids such as finding and checking off (or drawing) a caterpillar, bird, three kinds of flowers, acorns, ferns, leaves, moss, an insect, two kinds of rocks, and if you’re lucky an animal — chipmunk, squirrel, field mouse, deer.
Without being forced, or even knowing it (this isn’t science class), they’re observing nature like a famous old world naturalist, which breaks down any barriers that seem to “separate” us from nature. That’s a kind of positive desensitization training (by making them more familiar they’re less afraid or hesitant) which will help make nature feel more like a welcome friend at camp.
A blanket of stars
Another excursion that can help acquaint your camper with the majesty of life in our wondrous universe is a star gazing party. For this you can be as simple or imaginative as you like. If there’s an observatory near where you live, find out its hours and plan a trip to check out the stars.
If you’re feeling more ambitious, or by way of a farewell, get together with another family for an outdoor night in some good dark location — your yard if the viewing is good. String a sheet for shadow play, have a campfire, and when the raucousness winds down gather around to point out the heavenly glory.
You can find and name stars, tell mythological tales of the heavens, or just bask in the multitude. The main point is connecting it to camp, “In your cozy tent with all your tent mates you’ll be under this sparkly blanket of stars every night!”
You can also ask everyone to get very, very quiet and listen for night sounds. Ask kids what they hear, and then make playful and lovely your responses as you talk about those nocturnal creatures and trees and the rivers that are “babbling all night,” or “eating their dinner,” or “having a party,” while the rest of the world sleeps.
What could be happier?
An inviting familiarity is the goal, along with a connection to your own loves. When your child hears and sees that the living world makes you happy, especially with shared memories from your own childhood, she’ll be right at home, too!
Another couple of simple ideas include:
- Doing an arts and crafts project using seeds, acorns, shells, rocks, feathers, or other natural items.
- Going on a river rafting day. Watch for fish, insects, and water fowl.
- Gathering natural objects and then finding similar shapes in them — spirals (and Fibonacci numbers are especially fun!) — as well as colors and textures.
- Planning a “nature feast.” Include only food that comes directly from nature — no packaged or processed foods. Visit a small family farm or farmers market and buy fresh foods. Then plan your feast.
- You can taste yummy berries and fruits, dip carrots into peanut butter, enjoy local cheeses and meat, and spread butter on home baked breads or crackers. Taste-buds and tummies make a nice bridge to enjoying the natural world even more!
Who knows, she might love it so much that she chooses Wild World — our outdoor experience activity — for one of her four choices at camp!
— Elizabeth Dawson Shreckhise, Assistant Director, Camp Alleghany for Girls